Is All Radiation Composed of Particles?


Quick Answer

Particle radiation is composed of particles, but electromagnetic radiation is composed only of pure energy and takes the form of waves or pulses. Atoms undergo the process of radioactive decay to increase their stability, and for this purpose, they release either alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, neutrons or x-rays.

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Full Answer

When an atom emits alpha particles, it is undergoing ionizing radiation. Alpha particles are large and can be easily blocked, reducing the danger of alpha radiation. Beta particles are smaller and lighter than alpha particles and require a denser material to block them from penetrating the skin. Conversely, gamma rays and x-rays are capable of penetrating through most substances. Because they don't make other substances radioactive, these rays are the most common types used in medical procedures. Gamma and x-rays are forms of non-ionizing radiation. When neutron particles are released through radioactivity, they cause a process called neutron activation that allows them to make other objects radioactive. Neutron radiation has the greatest penetrative ability of any radiation and requires thick materials composed of hydrogen to block it. Although also used in medicine, the primary use of neutron radiation is in the production of nuclear energy inside a reactor. Reactors typically use water to prevent the neutrons from spreading and harming humans and the environment.

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